Alexis DeSalva Kahler
Alexis is a Senior Research Analyst at Mintel. Alexis focuses on US Retail and eCommerce reports.

Senior Retail and eCommerce analyst, Alexis DeSalva sits down with Jessica Murphy, co-founder of True Fit in Part 2 of Mintel’s interview series spotlighting women-owned businesses to discuss how her business is navigating the current retail challenges and the challenges she faces as a female-founder and business leader. True Fit is a data-driven personalization platform for footwear and apparel retailers that decodes personal style, fit and size for every consumer, every shoe and every piece of clothing. In part 2, they discuss the social media component of retail as well as the future of the brick-and-mortar store. Read part 1 here

Alexis DeSalva:

I was actually scrolling through the True Fit Instagram earlier, and I was really impressed. I thought it seemed well-curated, and almost curated for and by a consumer, and it really did encourage you to want to be engaged not just with True Fit, but also the brands and retailers. I’d love to get your thoughts on the whole social content component of retail and where you think it’s going.

True Fit founder Jessica Murphy

Jessica Murphy:

I think one of the biggest shifts that we’ve seen is the way that we communicate with consumers. And it is social. It’s 100% social and people are getting communicated to, marketed to every single day through this, and through all the mobile applications that they’re on, and retailers have to be there. But what’s also interesting is that it’s not the only solution. One of our brands is a multi-brand retailer and they’re seeing that for the majority of their brands, social is the best channel because of the demographics that shopping most of their brands, but for some of their older brands, email is still actually a better, more profitable channel because of the demographics. So they’re using our insights to layer on the demographic data on top of their digital marketing strategies to determine which brands to send or promote via social versus which brands to promote via email. And that came from one of our brands utilizing our data, and then making those choices and creating mini audiences.

I spend a lot of time talking to retailers about their social strategy and I think right now is a very introspective time for brands and retailers, in terms of understanding what message to send because it’s become more important than ever. Where retailers are choosing to spend their digital dollars when it comes to social, beyond Facebook and Google, has been really interesting to watch. Relevance becomes so important, because if you think about how much time people are spending on Instagram and TikTok, and all these places where people are living all the time, relevance still becomes the number one thing that is critical. And so you have to have data to help drive that relevance for people that you’re connecting with. I don’t think it’s going away.

AD: What comes next for social?

JM: One of the things that we’re working with our brands and retailers is to try to avoid as many dead-end experiences that result from social. There’s been a big push towards shoppable assets and really making the content on social super hyper-relevant, because what’s happening is often times the inventory is sold out in that awesome style that you just saw on your Instagram feed. And so getting control of and avoiding those dead-end experiences is one of the things that we’ve been really focused on, as far as how we’re going to help to support this prevalence of another trend that we don’t think it’s going away.

AD: Well, I think the trend not going away is just another example of the importance of contactless shopping. There are a bunch of examples on the True Fit website of how you’re helping to optimize contactless shopping, but I’d love to get your thoughts on what, if any form of that do you think is more important. Do you think that this all means that the role of the in-store experience is going away, or do you think it’s changing?

JM: I think it’s just changing. I don’t think the store will ever go away; it’s just not. The penetration is going to rebalance and that I absolutely believe is going to stay, I think the role of the store is just getting different. For me, the store represents immediacy, as in I need something at this moment. The store represents touch-and-feel. The store represents physical experience and for digital enablers like us, our job is to help retailers offer offline and online experiences that really complement and work in harmony. Again, to create that connection, whatever kind of range the consumer is in that journey, it’s really critical for companies like ours that focus on fit and style guidance, and matching of consumers to products. In terms of technologies that I think will remain important, I think contactless payments will become more important going forward. The phone becomes the gateway to so many things like fit and style guidance on your personal device, BOPIS and same-day delivery; many of these aren’t optimized yet. These are areas where retailers need to focus to get it right because I agree that the store is not going away, we have to change what role the store is playing.

AD: We both agree that the store will still be around, it’s just changing. Do you have any kind of prediction for how you think your business will change because of the pandemic? We mentioned the increase in social conversations, but is there anything else?

JM: For us, there are a couple of ways you know that it is changing. I’ve already mentioned that we’ve had to really focus on blurring the lines between offline and online and bringing the technology in-store and doing that in a really easy way. I also think of leveraging the data. We’ve been in a place where consumers have been giving us access to their data for a long time now, but now they have heightened their own awareness of privacy and their own rights, and they’re getting really adamant that if they’re giving all this information, then they want you to deliver relevant experiences.  I think the bar has been raised significantly and consumers are in control right now. So I think what we’re going to see is more reliance on technologies like ours that truly focus on one to one versus technologies that are doing things based on groupings and mass behavior. True Fit represents a big part of that future and understands how you respect consumers and respect their privacy, but also deliver them really relevant experiences that don’t waste their time.

AD: Because consumers are smart!

JM: Yes, and just to share some interesting facts, over the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve seen a massive spike in signups. We’re at 180 million registered users now and looking to grow. It’s across all age categories, which is interesting as well and is a real difference. It’s not just the Gen Zs and Millennials, but one of the COVID-19 trends has been to see a more mature customer who is very comfortable with signing up so it’s becoming mainstream, that expectation across different consumer groups.

AD: That is really interesting and I think it shows that people have different priorities, and maybe that older consumer, who you wouldn’t necessarily think would be signing up, is because they want to avoid stores. Because now there’s this new priority of cleanliness, or wanting to avoid the store, and now more consumers may see value in shopping online, and realize they can get something that actually helps them in exchange for sharing this information.

JM: Absolutely.

AD: I wanted to ask you about your experience as a female founder. I think everyone has some interesting tales to share and I’d love to know what kind of challenges or hardships you faced when starting out. What challenges do you still face and/or do you think it’s gotten easier? I’d love to get your take.

JM: I love this question. I think as women we have a choice to make. We’re either going to let who we are stand in our way, or we’re not. We’re going to make the choice that it’s not going to stand in our way. I’ve always chosen the latter, that I’m not going to be treated differently because I’m a female, because I’m Latina, because of all these things that characterize me. So I have been able to be, really successful, but to say that I don’t have to work harder sometimes because of who I am, is just simply not true. I like to do a lot of social experiments, so one recent one was that I was reaching out to a customer, and they were a C-suite executive man, and I was pinging them on something pretty important, and no response, second email no response, and I’ve seen this pattern before, which is why I decided to do my social experiment. I had our CEO, who is male, send the same exact email. Guess what happened?

AD: Response in minutes.

JM: Minutes! Versus no response (from me). We as women have those things happen around us and I could have a chip on my shoulder and feel frustrated that that’s the way that the world is, and not the whole world, but we do have to be aware that there are differences that happened and figure out how to navigate around them. And then we made the connection and I earned my respect and the emails are now being responded to, but it took pulling in another person that they viewed as equal and as similar to get a conversation moving. Being an entrepreneur and a founder, and raising money, I think it’s gotten a lot easier for female founders over the years. But again, this not being taken seriously, even in positions like mine as a founder and a high-ranking executive, it’s all around us and we have to find ways to not make that a reality.

AD: I think that’s a wonderful perspective. Not to have a chip on your shoulder, but also, be aware that it’s kind of a balance. What are your hopes for future female entrepreneurs?

JM: I’m already seeing a lot of shifts, and even I see the shift in the way that my own investors are prioritizing diversity and inclusion and really working hard to change the landscape of what companies are funded. I think that’s a wonderful thing because that has been an evolution over time. We’re breaking down some of the barriers around female-lead and female-founded businesses that are often rooted in consumer problems and consumer dynamics, for example, shopping and retail. Most investors when I was raising money early on thought “the problem that you’re describing is a female-only problem because I don’t shop” or you know, “this doesn’t necessarily resonate.”

AD: I’m sure they still had plenty of perspective to share!

JM: Yes, but I do think that the landscape is beginning to change. There’s been more acceptance and more willingness to listen, and you also have incredible venture capital (VCs), female-founded VCs that have been incredibly successful. My hope for entrepreneurs starting companies and raising money right now is that some of the path that’s been laid for them makes it easier for them to follow their dreams and really take their vision and make it everything that it can be. I’m hoping that some of my hard work early on in a very tiny, tiny, tiny, pinpoint of a little way helped.